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Interleaving: The new technique that'll save your A-Levels!

By Tom Lenton on 18 December 2017UKblogStudy tipsExam advice

Do you wanna be simply the best? Better than all the rest? Better than anyone the examiners ever met? ...you do? Awesome! I think I’ve got just the thing for you…

Student: meet “interleaving”. Interleaving, meet student. Interleaving is a learning technique that has been proved to help you remember and understand things. It’s not been around for that long - meaning it’s still a baby learning technique 👶 - but it’s also one which has been proven to work and work well. Here at Atomi we dove into some serious science to find out about it for you, so come and enjoy the fruits of our labour! 🍐 🍎

The principle

“Interleaving” is a special technique that helps you remember the content you’ve learned. Essentially, the idea is that if you regularly vary the content your learning, you’re more likely to understand and remember that content.

In school we tend to learn topics in big exhausting blocks, doing all of one topic before moving onto the other, like this:

interleaving-01-720px

However, interleaving suggests that it’d actually make more sense to switch between topics regularly along the way. We could do a bit of topic one, then a bit of three, then maybe a bit of four, then a bit of two, then a bit of three again, then some one, and so on - you get the idea.

interleaving-02-720px

Interleaving is harder for a little while, but the result is worth it. That’s because learning all about one thing for ages on end makes you feel comfortable with a topic for a while, but doesn’t make you very good at coming back to it and remembering bits of info. If you mix up your learning, the remembering process get exercised a lot more 🏋 .

How to do it

That’s all great in theory, but how can we put that knowledge into practice? After all, you can hardly change how your school lays out the content for you...

Even so, it’s pretty easy to work some interleaved learning into your revision. All you need to do is structure your revision in a way that routinely mixes up your topics and even subjects.

As I said before, interleaving might seem harder for a while. It probably feels right to spend a whole day doing the same thing - you might want to spend a long hard day doing trigonometry for your Maths A-Level, then move onto Attachment for your Psychology A-Level the next day. However, interleaving suggests that it’s actually much better to spend an hour or two on a smaller part - like inverse trigonometric functions for Maths - and then move straight onto another small part of something else - like Ainsworth’s Strange Situation for your Psychology.

That being said, it’s still super important to make sure you understand something properly before you move on. It’s not about rushing between different topics without understanding what you’re doing - it’s just about doing less of one topic or one subject in one go.

Also, interleaving works wonderfully with spaced repetition - as both encourage you to space out your revision for each topic - so check out our post on that too!

Remember

Basically, interleaving is just one nice little trick that some of you might want to try and use. It’s not going to determine your grade alone - you still need to do the work. However, spacing out the topics you’ve covered more and more should, in theory, make you better at remembering the content, and up your chances of smashing your exam! So, give it a go and see if the science checks out! 📊

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